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ActiveManage Extends the Sysadmin's Reach

Keep your network running from anywhere.

What do you do if you need to fix problems on your network but you can't always be in the office? Traditionally, this has involved picking up the phone and trying to talk someone through the Windows user interface from memory, or hauling around a laptop loaded with a remote-control or remote-access program. ProductivityNet now offers you another option: network administration from Palm wireless devices via their ActiveManage product.

An ActiveManage installation consists of three pieces. First, there's a network appliance (based on a Cobalt RaQ4 server) that you plug into your network. Second, there's a server agent that you install on each computer that you'd like to manage. In version 1, the server agent can handle Windows NT 4.0 or Windows 2000 computers, but they're extending the software to include agents for Solaris, Linux, and advanced Win2K features in version 2 (now in beta). Finally, there's a small application that you install on the Palm device.

Installation was fairly simple: Use the front panel of the appliance to set an IP address, then run a browser-based setup from a computer on my network. The server agents installed without issue, though I did have to call tech support to get the security set up so that the ActiveManage server would talk to the server agents-the documentation could use some improvement in this regard. On the plus side, ActiveManage makes good use of security tools including SSL certificates for communication with the server agents, as well as end-to-end encryption from the wireless device (your data never travels in unencrypted fashion). ActiveManage has its own concept of users layered on top of operating system users, which could be a nuisance if you had a lot of administrators who needed to be maintained as ActiveManage users.

Another minor nuisance was the necessity to run around to individual computers to install the server agent; there's no central "push" installation available. For a large network, you'll definitely want to use a product such as Microsoft SMS or Vector Networks' LanUtil to automate the installation.

However, once things were up and running smoothly they worked great. You can log in to the ActiveManage server from any Web browser or from the Palm device. Once there, you can perform a host of management tasks, including starting and stopping services, executing command-line tasks at any server, investigating running processes or even rebooting the machine. Basically, if you can do it from the Windows console, you can probably do it through ActiveManage. It can be tough to perform some operations from the tiny Palm screen, but ActiveManage does a good job of optimizing the available real estate.

ActiveManage
ActiveManage's web-based interface provides easy access to all the critical parts of your network. (Click image to view larger version.)

You can also create custom alerts with ActiveManage, causing a server agent to monitor critical operations on any particular computer. These alerts will be the first thing that you see when you log on to the system, and will be e-mailed to the administrator when they happen if you so desire.

Overall, I was quite happy with my test drive of ActiveManage. It's sort of amazing to be able to pull out a Palm device or log on via a web browser and have complete, but secure, control of the network. If you're a sysadmin on call, this is definitely a product worth investigating. ActiveManage is $2,995 for the server appliance, plus $295 per managed server and $25 per managed client.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy, MCSE, MCSD, MCDBA, is a former MCP columnist and the author of numerous development books.

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